What to Grow in a Kitchen Garden

Planting a kitchen garden and choosing the best vegetables

January 16, 2021
Tomatoes for Kitchen Garden

Kitchen gardens are making a comeback! We all want the freshest and most nutritious, flavorful food possible. What could be easier than having the fixin’s for tonight’s supper growing right outside the back door? Start small! Here’s how to plant a kitchen garden—with ideas on what which vegetables to grow.

Imagine waking up in the morning and breakfasting on your own garden—gathering gold orange cherry tomatoes or strawberries for breakfast. Cultivating a garden full of your favorite vegetables is a practical way to save a bundle on your grocery bill and it also makes meal planning a snap.

Make a Tiny Kitchen Garden!

What’s great about a kitchen garden is that it can be manageable, not overwhelming.  How about a simple raised bed that’s 12 x 12 feet? Small spaces can be surprising productive! 

  • To get started, observe how the sun falls in your garden and for how long. You’ll need 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day for many vegetables. 
  • Locating your garden near your backdoor makes harvesting fresh produce super convenient. If you lack a good sunny location for your garden in the backyard, your kitchen garden will look good enough to grow out front.
  • Ideally, the garden can be close enough to the house that you can access a hose or a spigot. Plus,
  • Your soil should have good drainage. You’ll probably need to amend most soils with compost or organic matter.
  • If your soil is really poor, consider raised beds and buying soil and organic composted manure. Raised beds work especially well in small spaces. Just avoid timber treated with chemicals.
  • Plan an easy access layout, varying the height of different crops.
  • Make the most of your space with some container crops.
  • Many dwarf fruit trees can be grown in pots, and tender plants that can be moved inside in winter
  • Try growing vertical, too! Trellises can hide eyesore while supporting vining crops such as tomato, cucumbers, and squash.
  • Don’t forget to include some edible blooms, too, such as nasturtium, borage, and flowering herbs. They will attract pollinators and add welcome color. 

See our tiny garden kitchen! We created a pocket-size plot that was only 10 x 14 feet. With a lot of thinking and planning, it produced two wonderful harvests, fresh salad, herbs, fruit, veggies and even pumpkins (vining). See what you think. Have you a spare nook doing nothing?

Great Foods for a Kitchen Garden

Plan your kitchen garden with your favorite foods in mind. Here are some ideas!

  • Love Italian cuisine? Plant lots of ‘San Marzano’ paste tomatoes, ‘Corno di Toro’ peppers, ‘Genovese’ basil, and ‘Cocozelle’ squash.

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  • Crave spring salads? Who could resist tender lettuces you’d never find in the grocery store such as ‘Blushed Butter’, ‘Flashy Trout Back’, or ‘Little Gem’ and don’t forget thin-skinned ‘Diva’ cukes, crispy radishes, and ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes.

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  • Planning on canning? You’ll want to grow plenty of ‘Boston Pickling’ cucumbers, ‘Bouquet’ dill, and ‘Blue Lake’ pole beans for making pickles and dilly beans.

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  • Salsa a staple on your table? Tailor your garden to your taste by growing peppers with just the right amount of spice. Try ‘Ancho’ for slight heat, ‘Early Jalapeno’ for medium fire, or crazy-hot ‘Ghost’ peppers for the true chile-heads.
  • Do you detect a theme? Just as meal planning is easier when you work around a theme, gardens can have themes too. Think ethnic—Thai, Greek, French, Mexican, Russian—whatever family your favorite  foods belong to. Those specialty vegetables that would cost you dearly at the store can be easily grown at home.
  • Go Gourmet! To really save money, try growing the pricey gourmet foods that you love but can’t afford to buy. Arugula, endive, edamame, filet beans, purple asparagus, white eggplant, shallots, and mesclun are easy to grow.

Remember, many vegetables can be decorative as well as nourishing. Frilly, red-leaved lettuces make a colorful edible edging, scarlet runner beans or purple-podded pole beans are beautiful as well as tasty, and ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard comes in an array of eye-catching neon colors. If garden space is at a premium, just plant what you love most and enjoy it at its peak.

Inspired to plan a kitchen garden?  See some sample kitchen garden layouts and start dreaming!

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.

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